“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” It is a perennial motif in the revenge sub-genre, and one that means the journey is as important as the destination.
Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish convict, working for the stationed British army in Van Diemen’s Land, 1825, until such time as she is granted her freedom. When a lieutenant and his subordinates do something truly, utterly evil to her and her family, she sets off after them to get her some justice. She is aided by Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker, who initially wants no part in the violence, but begins to soften to the idea after witnessing the abuse of his people.
The movie is steeped in history; it is a fable, and an admittedly depressing portrait of man’s treatment of women, and the unholy power dynamic between whites and blacks during that period. Which makes it all the more satisfying and cathartic when the bad’uns get their comeuppance, right? Actually, it’s so damn real that I felt a little empty and cold at the end.
That isn’t necessarily a criticism.
Amidst the sobriety, there are hallucinogenic sequences that call to mind director Jennifer Kent’s debut feature, The Babadook, and it is in these scenes – the closest the film ventures to horror – where Clare’s delirium makes for truly exciting cinema.
This is a movie, at its core, replete with just the right amount of bushland navel-gazing to remind us how beautiful our country is, even married to the brutality of the time, and musical flourishes essentially bookend the film, Franciosi’s voice a welcome sea of post-chaos tranquillity.
The Nightingale is hard to love, easy to admire, and further proof of what we all knew: Tasmania is just as hellish as mainland Australia.